Are Earwigs Harmful To Plants?

Earwigs, those curious insects with menacing pincers on their abdomens, have long been a subject of fascination and concern among gardeners. As avid cultivators of lush greenery, gardeners know that the delicate balance of their carefully nurtured plants can be easily upset by these nocturnal creatures. In this article, we delve into the world of earwigs and their relationship with plants, shedding light on their potential to wreak havoc in gardens. Understanding their behavior is not just a matter of curiosity; it’s a key to safeguarding your botanical treasures.

Signs of Earwig Damage

Identifying the subtle yet distinctive signs of earwig damage is crucial for gardeners aiming to protect their plants. When earwigs have been feeding on your greenery, they tend to leave behind several visual clues. One of the most prominent signs is the appearance of irregular, ragged-edged holes or notches in plant leaves. These telltale patterns are often a clear indication of earwig feeding activity. 

You might notice shredded flower petals if your garden includes flowering plants, as earwigs are known to dine on these delicate structures. To confirm their presence, be on the lookout for dark, pellet-like fecal matter, which earwigs leave behind on leaves or the ground around affected plants. Moreover, earwigs secrete a slimy substance as they move, leaving shiny, silvery trails on plant surfaces, which can be particularly noticeable in damp conditions or during the morning dew. Familiarizing yourself with these visual cues can help you promptly address any earwig-related issues in your garden, preserving the health and aesthetics of your plants.

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Impact On The Growth Of Young Plants

When earwigs target young plants, their feeding habits can have significant repercussions on the plants’ growth and development. Young plants, with their tender leaves and fragile structures, are particularly susceptible to the effects of earwig damage. One of the most immediate consequences is stunted growth. Earwigs frequently consume the delicate new growth, hindering the plant’s ability to flourish. For flowering plants, earwig feeding can delay or even thwart the onset of blooms. The insects often zero in on flower buds, causing them to either remain closed or prematurely drop, diminishing the visual appeal of the plant. In cases of fruit-bearing plants like tomatoes and strawberries, earwigs may target developing fruits, resulting in scarred or misshapen produce, ultimately leading to reduced yields. 

Perhaps even more concerning is the overall weakening of young plants due to continuous earwig feeding. Weakened plants are not only less productive but also more susceptible to other pests and diseases, which can set off a chain reaction of declining plant health if not addressed promptly. Consequently, safeguarding young plants from earwig damage becomes imperative for maintaining a thriving and productive garden.

Specific Plant Species That Are Particularly Vulnerable

While earwigs can be a menace to a variety of plant species, there are certain plants that stand out as especially susceptible to their feeding habits. Gardeners should take note of these plant types to implement targeted protective measures. Dahlias, for instance, are a preferred delicacy for earwigs, making them prime targets. These insects can cause significant damage to both the foliage and the beautiful blooms of dahlia plants. Marigolds, renowned for their vibrant and colorful flowers, can also fall victim to earwig feeding, resulting in unsightly petal damage that compromises their aesthetic appeal. 

Leafy greens like lettuce are another group of plants vulnerable to earwig damage, with chewed leaves being a common indicator of infestation. Moreover, young seedlings, which possess tender leaves and stems, are at a heightened risk of earwig damage. This applies to a range of vegetables and herbs, making early protection critical for their development. Lastly, strawberry plants, known for their succulent fruits, can also suffer from earwig feeding, potentially leading to a reduction in fruit yields. Recognizing the specific plants that earwigs favor allows gardeners to focus their efforts on safeguarding these species and mitigating the overall impact of earwigs on the health and aesthetics of their garden.

The Earwig Life Cycle and Plant Damage

To comprehend the connection between earwig life cycles and the potential damage they inflict on plants, it’s essential to understand their developmental stages. Earwigs undergo incomplete metamorphosis, which consists of three key stages: eggs, nymphs, and adults.

Earwigs begin their life cycle as eggs, which are typically laid in concealed, damp locations such as soil crevices or under debris. The eggs are oval-shaped and pale in color. While earwigs don’t directly damage plants at this stage, the presence of eggs in garden soil can be an early indication of potential future plant damage.

After hatching from the eggs, earwig nymphs resemble miniature versions of adult earwigs but lack fully developed wings and pincers. During this stage, which lasts a few weeks to a few months, nymphs feed on various organic matter, including small insects, decaying plant material, and, occasionally, tender plant shoots. While their impact on mature plants is limited, young seedlings and delicate plants can be vulnerable to nymph feeding.

Adult earwigs, with their characteristic pincers and winged bodies, are the primary culprits when it comes to plant damage. They are voracious omnivores, and their diet includes leaves, flowers, fruits, and even other insects. Adult earwigs become most active during warm and humid evenings, making their feeding activity particularly detrimental to plants during these conditions.

Relevance To Gardeners

For gardeners, it’s crucial to focus on the stages of the earwig life cycle that have the greatest impact on plants and garden health.

Adult earwigs are the most significant concern for gardeners due to their voracious appetite for plant material. They are the ones responsible for the distinctive signs of earwig damage, such as chewed leaves, shredded petals, and damaged fruits. Gardeners should be especially vigilant during the growing season, as adult earwigs are most active during warm, humid evenings and can quickly target susceptible plants.

While nymphs are not as destructive as adults, they can still pose a threat to young seedlings and delicate plants. Gardeners should monitor their garden for the presence of earwig nymphs and take preventative measures to protect vulnerable plants during this stage.

Although earwig eggs do not directly harm plants, their presence in the garden soil can serve as an early warning sign. Gardeners should be aware that a population of earwigs may be developing nearby, and proactive measures can be taken to mitigate potential plant damage once the nymphs reach a more destructive stage.

Controlling Earwig Damage

Controlling the potential damage inflicted by earwigs on your garden plants involves a comprehensive approach encompassing both prevention and active management. A variety of strategies can be employed:

Habitat Modification serves as an effective starting point. By eliminating hiding spots, such as mulch, leaf litter, and garden debris, you make your garden less appealing to earwigs during the daytime. Maintaining a clean and orderly garden reduces their shelter options.

Trapping methods can be employed to capture earwigs. Rolled-up newspaper or cardboard tubes strategically placed around your garden can serve as makeshift traps. Earwigs seek shelter in these traps during the night, and in the morning, you can collect and dispose of them.

Harnessing Natural Predators is another eco-friendly strategy. Encourage birds and toads to inhabit your garden, as they are natural enemies of earwigs. Bird feeders and small ponds can attract these beneficial creatures, helping to keep earwig populations in check.

Barriers can be established to physically deter earwigs from reaching your vulnerable plants. Options include diatomaceous earth, copper tape, or petroleum jelly applied to the base of plant stems. These substances discourage earwigs from climbing onto your plants.

Handpicking can be employed on a smaller scale. During the evening when earwigs are most active, you can manually remove them from your plants. Wearing gloves, gently collect the earwigs and place them into a bucket of soapy water for disposal.

Using Trap Crops is a clever tactic. Consider planting sacrificial crops such as sunflowers or zinnias adjacent to your main garden plants. Earwigs are drawn to these crops, effectively serving as natural traps and diverting them away from your prized plants.

Implementing a combination of these methods and tailoring them to your specific gardening needs can significantly reduce the impact of earwig damage on your plants, all while minimizing the need for chemical interventions.

Organic And Non-Chemical Approaches

When it comes to managing earwig damage in an eco-friendly manner, there are several organic and non-chemical approaches to consider. These methods are not only effective but also align with environmentally conscious gardening practices:

Neem oil, derived from the neem tree, is a natural pesticide known to deter earwigs when applied to plants. It disrupts their feeding and reproductive processes without harming beneficial insects or the environment.

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic organisms that can be introduced into the soil to target earwig larvae. They are a biological control method, which means they specifically target pest larvae while leaving other garden inhabitants unharmed.

Implementing good cultural practices in your garden can enhance plant health and resilience to pests. Adequate watering, proper fertilization, and optimal plant spacing can all contribute to healthier, more robust plants that are less susceptible to earwig damage.

Consider companion planting, a technique where certain plants are strategically placed alongside vulnerable crops to deter pests. Marigolds and garlic, for instance, are known to repel earwigs when interplanted with susceptible vegetables or flowers.

Timing And Seasonality

Timing is a crucial factor in the success of your earwig control efforts, as these pests’ activity levels are influenced by seasonality and weather conditions. To optimize your strategies for managing earwig damage, it’s essential to consider the following seasonal aspects:

Early Spring is an opportune time to start preventive measures before earwig populations have a chance to build up. Clearing away potential overwintering sites and creating physical barriers around plants can help safeguard your garden.

Late Spring to Early Summer marks the period when earwigs become most active, especially during warm, humid evenings. This is when they are likely to commence feeding on plants. Therefore, monitoring your garden during this time is crucial.

Evening Control is highly effective, as earwigs are primarily nocturnal creatures. It’s during these evening hours that you should focus your control efforts, such as handpicking or setting traps, to target them when they are most active.

Continuous Vigilance throughout the growing season is vital, as earwig populations can fluctuate. Regularly inspect your garden for signs of earwig activity and adjust your control methods accordingly to maintain a balanced ecosystem and protect your plants.

Can Earwigs Transmit Diseases to Plants?

The role of earwigs as potential vectors for plant diseases is a matter of concern for gardeners and agriculturalists alike. While earwigs primarily feed on plant material, it is less common for them to transmit plant diseases compared to some other insect pests. Unlike certain insects such as aphids or whiteflies, which can actively spread plant pathogens, earwigs are not known for their ability to carry and transmit diseases from plant to plant.

Earwigs primarily feed on plant tissues, including leaves, flowers, and fruits. Their feeding can cause direct damage to plant structures, leading to cosmetic issues and potentially affecting plant growth and productivity. However, the act of feeding itself does not inherently introduce pathogens or diseases to the plants they consume.

Disease Transmission by Earwigs

While earwigs are not commonly associated with disease transmission in plants, it’s essential to note that they can indirectly contribute to disease issues under certain conditions. 

When earwigs feed on plant tissues, they may create wounds or openings on the plant. These wounds can serve as entry points for opportunistic pathogens, such as bacteria or fungi, which can then infect the plant. However, this is a secondary effect rather than direct transmission by the earwigs.

Earwig feeding can weaken plants, making them more susceptible to diseases. Stressed plants are often less capable of defending themselves against pathogens, which can lead to disease development.

Earwigs are often found in moist, decaying organic matter. In some cases, their presence in garden debris or mulch may contribute to increased moisture levels, which can create a favorable environment for fungal growth. Fungal diseases can then affect nearby plants.

Preventative Measures

Cultural practices are fundamental to preventing earwig damage to your plants and maintaining a thriving garden. These practices focus on creating an environment that discourages earwig activity while promoting overall plant health. To protect your garden from these nocturnal pests, consider the following insights.

Regularly clearing fallen leaves, garden debris, and excess mulch eliminates the damp and sheltered hiding spots that earwigs favor during the day. By keeping your garden clean and well-maintained, you reduce their daytime refuges and make your garden less attractive to them.

Overwatering your garden can create a hospitable environment for earwigs. To mitigate this, water your plants at their base in the morning, allowing the soil surface to dry during the day. This reduces moisture levels and discourages earwigs from congregating.

Consider planting vulnerable crops in raised beds or containers, which earwigs have a harder time reaching. This elevation strategy minimizes the risk of earwig damage to your plants.

Employ the power of companion planting by intermixing certain plants known to repel earwigs with your susceptible crops. Marigolds and garlic are notable examples of plants that deter earwigs with their pungent aromas, acting as a natural protective barrier.

If you prefer using mulch, opt for non-organic materials like gravel or crushed stone, which do not provide ideal hiding spots for earwigs. This discourages their presence around your plants. Conduct regular inspections of your garden, particularly in the evening when earwigs are most active. Early detection allows for timely intervention and prevents potential damage. Incorporating these cultural practices into your gardening routine can significantly reduce the risk of earwig damage and contribute to the overall health and vitality of your garden.


While earwigs can be a nuisance in gardens and occasionally cause damage to plants, their impact is not typically as devastating as that of some other garden pests. Recognizing the signs of earwig damage, implementing preventive measures, and adopting eco-friendly control strategies can help gardeners effectively manage earwig populations without resorting to harsh chemicals. By understanding the nuances of earwig behavior and their interaction with plants, gardeners can strike a balance that fosters both plant health and a thriving garden ecosystem.